The Cold Doesn’t Matter!

DSCN0405On Friday I received news from Alastair Gray through the Sussex Ornithological Society’s sighting page that a Great Northern Diver had been spotted on Weir Wood Reservoir, a patch tick for him. It was late in the evening so I couldn’t do anything about it just then, but on Saturday morning I persuaded my mum to drive me there.

Our first stop was the West end, where most of the bird action usually is. We arrived first but soon other birders had come to have a look too. Unfortunately after some hopeless 45 minutes scanning the water with our scopes, we decided that it wasn’t here. It was a tense 3/4 of an hour: every Cormorant (there are lots of them) gave us false hope. The only birds of note were a dozen Gadwall, and a Marsh Tit on the feeders.

I was about to give up when I heard the other birders suggesting going to the East end, which is even more exposed. I followed them and we faced a chilly uphill walk to the bank of the reservoir near the sailing club. The wind was so bad that the water mimicked the sea off Brighton Pier on a bad day! Again we scanned the water but nothing was to be seen, we were losing hope once more. However, someone spotted the diver, far off. Too far off for my telescope to even see! Thankfully one of the other birders showed it to me before he left. It wasn’t  a very impressive view of an otherwise majestic bird, but it made the trip worthwhile.

Great Northern Divers, also known as the Great Northern Loon or Common Loon in North America, is a member of the genus Gavia, the symbol of Minnesota; the provincial  bird of Ontario; and foreign exchange dealers’ name for the Canadian dollar: the Loony because it appears on the country’s notes. The birds are related to grebes and are very powerful swimmers. They breed in Great Britain but usually only in the north, they winter further south but are mainly coastal in winter. That makes this bird at Weir W0od Reservoir, a very inland site, a very special bird.



This summer, I went to Knepp Estate for an Amateur Entomologist’s Society (AES)field meeting on grasshoppers and crickets. It was really interesting, but the best part was being asked to write an article for the Bug Club magazine for junior AES members on a bug that I found! This was the first time this has happened. It was published in the October issue of the magazine, here it is:

“On August 12th this year, a few keen bug-hunters and I made the journey to Knepp Estate near Horsham, West Sussex for an AES field meeting. Knepp Estate is a wonderful place and is currently undergoing a ‘rewilding’ project, where people try to restore a site back to the days when wildlife was plentiful in the area. It consists of a number of different habitats, but mainly scrubby grassland with a few lakes and ponds scattered around.”

“The focus of this AES field meeting was on grasshoppers, crickets and related species. However, the star species was actually a hemipteroid (a ‘true’ bug): the Tortoise Bug (Eurygaster testudinaria). We came across it while we were making our way through a marshy habitat, looking for a species of cricket called the Short-winged Conehead. The first we saw of the Tortoise Bug were actually two nymphs (pre-adults), sitting cosily on top of a Marigold flower. They look like typical shieldbug nymphs, with an oval-shaped body and a dark pronotum (the section of the body directly behind the head). However, the feature that stood out about this nymph was the fact that the main colour was a light rosy pink.”

“To my surprise, an adult was found soon after. However, it’s much harder to confirm the identification of an adult. Like quite a few other invertebrate groups, you have to peer really closely at obscure parts – in this case the front of the head. The Scarce Tortoise Bug is the species we have to keep in mind, and the easiest way to separate it is to check if there is a slight depression (dent) in the front of the head. Only the Tortoise Bug has this depression at the front of the head, but it’s very hard to see. We had to look really hard through our handlenses, but in the end we reached the conclusion that the depression was evident, making it the much more frequent Tortoise Bug. If only bug identification could be simple!”





Gilbert White Youth Award… what an award!

Firstly, a bit about Gilbert White. As the NBN are saying, Gilbert White has become synonymous with biological recording. Having lived in the 1700s, he’s far from a modern-day recorder. He lived in the parish of Selborne, near the Sussex-Hampshire border and recorded all of the natural history in the parish in his most well-known publication: The Natural History of Selborne. A book review will appear in the Book Reviews page on this site as soon as possible.

So, a few months ago, the NBN launched a new awards scheme to help celebrate biological recording in the UK. There are four main awards:

  • The Gilbert White youth award, for terrestrial and freshwater recorders under the age of 18
  • The Gilbert White adult award, for terrestrial and freshwater adult recorders
  • The David Robertson youth award, for coastal and marine recorders under the age of 18. The marine and coastal awards are named after David Robertson, who died in 1896 but founded the University Marine Biological Station at Millport which now goes by the name ‘Millport Field Centre’.
  • The David Robertson adult award, for adult coast and marine recorders.

Tony Davis, my ringing trainer and an inspirational pan-species lister, nominated me for the Gilbert White youth award. However, I had no idea about it, it was done completely behind my back! I only found out when I received an email from the NBN with a subject line reading ‘Gilbert White youth award winner’! I was invited to the awards ceremony, which took place last Thursday evening (19/11/15).

The awards were presented at Merchant Taylor’s Hall in York. Just before the awards were announced I was able to chat to a few people, including two members of the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre, Bob Foreman and Clare Blencowe. I was already in a good mood: Bob had told me that the only record he could find for a Closterium species I had recorded was in Romania! We’ll have to wait and see, but it looks like it might be my first ever first for Britain!

My award was the first to be announced and it had a long introduction. The Earl of Selborne was presenting my award and he was quoting from my nomination. Several times I heard him say ‘the winner is…’, at which point I would make a sudden movement in the direction of the front of the hall, but he actually only went on to say ‘the winner is a…’. It was a nerve-wracking experience! Finally the Earl of Selborne said ‘The winner is…. James McCulloch’ and I was kind of relieved!

It was very interesting to see who the other winners were:

  • The winners of the Gilbert White adult award were a husband and wife partnership, Ian and the late Pat Evans.
  • The winner of the David Robertson youth award was Callum Ullman-Smith, a 13 year old who has conducted impressive research on Palmate Newt populations in saline waters near his home in Scotland.
  • The winner of the David Robertson adult award was David Fenwick, a great photographer as well as a recorder.

There were also two other awards:

  • The Open Data award, which went to the Mammal Society.
  • The Special Award, which was another posthumous award and went to Nigel Jee.

Congratulations to all the winners!

After a bit of site-seeing around York (mainly lichen hunting for me!) we had to leave. My first plant tick for a while was a worthy end to the trip: Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) on the edge of the car park near the city station!

Unfortunately, John Sawyer, who came up with the idea to create these awards, sadly died of a heart attack recently. He was the CEO of the NBN. He was very young and will be missed by all who knew him and many who didn’t. These awards are a fitting tribute to him.

Some New Book Reviews

Looking at my statistics page, the page entitled ‘Book Reviews’ appears to be quite popular. I hope this is because they are good and not just because the page is the second one after ‘Home’. I have realised that I don’t get quite so many page views after ‘Book Reviews’ though…

Anyway, here are some new book reviews. They will also be available on the ‘Book Reviews’ page.

Title: The Lichen Hunters
Author/s: Oliver Gilbert
Summary: This is a lovely collection of tales from the point of view of an experienced lichenologist, Oliver Gilbert. It retells stories from places like remote islands and mountains, the Lizard and various churchyards. This is not just a dry book about lichens, it is often exciting and even terrifying and spooky in some places! Unfortunately Oliver passed away in 2005, but this and other books by him will hopefully be a long-lasting legacy.

Title: The Carabidae (ground beetles) of Britain and Ireland
Author/s: Martin L. Luff
Summary: This is one of the few great detailed books for people wanting to identify what ground beetles are around them. I find that constant referral to the diagram of the beetle anatomy is needed, so some beginners might find the jargon quite confusing. However, once you successfully get to the end of the key, there is a lot of information about the beetle you have identified. This is a feature I don’t often see in keys like this and it is an easy way to check your identification.

Title: Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Author/s: Martin Townsend and Paul Waring (Illustrations by Richard Lewington)
Summary:This is an easy-to-use, concise guide which is perfect for the beginner, the amateur and the professional. The illustrations are incredibly detailed, which is often needed for this type of identification, all done by “one of Europe’s leading natural history illustrators”. The wiro-binding design lets the book sit permanently open whilst you are peering at a moth, very convenient in the field along with the ‘waterproofness’!